‘Guardians of the Galaxy:’ Hooked on a Franchise

Guardians is super fun, the soundtrack’s killer, the killer’s menacing, the hero’s heroic, the tree is the best part. But, and this is a controversial opinion, I know, the internet should calm down about it. It’s just a movie. It’s very clearly a Marvel movie. A really enjoyable one, for sure. There’s no doubt that Chris Pratt is charming, Bradley Cooper proves himself as a voice actor, and David Bautista knocks it out of the park with his literal-minded “walking thesaurus” of a character. But the movie is also too thick with plot, seemingly for the sake of making the franchise last forever, the villain, while “scary,” is void of motive and personality, and while the jokes are good, Iron Man and The Avengers were better scripts.

There is no doubt that director/co-writer James Gunn (whose masterpiece I will claim to this day is still Slither) had a mammoth task on his hands bringing five Marvel characters of relatively little notoriety to the consciousness of the general public, explaining each of their stories and the world they live in, and then making us care about what happens to them. Not easy. And generally, we’re right there with them the entire time. It seems like part of explaining the heroes’ journey was neglecting to fill out a villain. Sure, that Ronan guy has black teeth and an anger problem, but we don’t know why he’s so power-hungry or what he wants. We know Ronan is working in conjunction with Thanos, the real, overarching villain of the Marvel movie universe. However, Thanos is still just a vague face on a screen, a looming, ominous storm cloud that has yet to really throw down a lightning bolt. Evil? Definitely. Interesting? Not yet.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) find themselves on the hunt for this “orb,” the catchall tangible motive of seemingly every space adventure movie ever. Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a snarky Raccoon/experiment, his tree-man Groot (Vin Diesel), and Grax (David Bautista) are after Peter and Gamora for their own reasons, but then the group of misfits must band together to save themselves and the galaxy (of course). It’s pretty skillfully maneuvered; most of the movie is exposition, but you don’t really realize it. Everyone has their own motives for being who they are and participating in the mission, everyone except the bad guy.

It may be that the franchise mentality is holding these movies back from making villains really juicy. In Marvel movies, it’s all about the heroes. If they were to allow for a Heath-Ledger-Joker caliber villain, the movie would either have to end with total obliteration of the guy (the heroes win again, and we’re out of sequels), or they’d have to sacrifice some of the indestructibility of their heroes to drag the story on for three more installments. And they seem to be doing just fine with keeping the focus on the good guys and making the bad just bad and only bad and nothing else. Why rock the boat?

Peter, who was abducted from Earth in the glory days of the late 1980’s, finds comfort in his walkman, which he uses to play a tape labeled “Awesome Mix #1,” pretty much every super 80’s song there is. That becomes the soundtrack for the movie, and it’s a fun conceit to throw this futuristic, hyper-gadgeted world at the mercy of the likes of Blue Swede. But the big plot points are still scored to swelling super-hero-movie type compositions, and I just wish they’d committed one hundred percent.

Michael Rooker is an inspired choice for the role of Yondu, the blue dude who sort of raised Peter but is also pretty much a filthy criminal. He’s the anti-super-hero-movie actor, and he nails it. An absolute treasure. I love the guy. Rooker is simply a badass outlaw of acting – he embodies the out-of-placeness of his characters to a completeness that seems, and might be, just totally real. It’s awesome. I’d be so into a Merle/Yondu sequel – let’s Freaky Friday/Parent Trap it UP. We’ll call it Guardians of the Walking Dead. You’re welcome.

So it’s like, really solid, super fun and not perfect, but overall, I’d say Guardians of the Galaxy is I am Groot.

Grade: B+

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